Keith Arkell sets standard with win at European senior championships
Leonard Barden
The Guardian, Friday 21 March 2014 16.41 EDT

Keith Arkell entered chess history as a pioneer this week when the Devon grandmaster won the European senior championship in Oporto, Portugal. Arkell is the first of England’s 1970s generation, who then challenged the mighty USSR legends, to enter a major over-50 event and his triumph was symbolic revenge. His two main rivals, seeded ahead of him but finishing behind, were both former Soviets.

Arkell, 53, scored an unbeaten 7/9 and showed his ringcraft and experience by making easy draws with Black against the Russian and the Georgian, winning a drawn position in round eight by endgame flair, then surviving a fierce attack by resilient defence in the final round.

He received his €1,000 first prize from Garry Kasparov, who is himself now a senior. The award did not even cover the bill at the hotel where competitors had to stay but an appeal brought some private donations and he did it, as he said before the start, ‘just for the glory’.

Arkell is one of England’s most popular GMs, winner of nearly 300 weekend opens, gregarious and approachable. His book, Arkell’s Odyssey, chronicles the life of a chess pro and over the years he has evolved a personal playing style where he often settles for a minimal opening edge and relies on his endgame technique. His heroes are Anatoly Karpov and Ulf Andersson, and he regards their long exacting wins, requiring great precision, as the highest form of chess art. Several of his wins in Oporto were marathon grinds, and he has won the theoretically drawn rook and bishop against rook more than 20 times.

Arkell’s golden result is a wake-up call to the English Chess Federation to rethink its international priorities and give proper backing to senior chess. Currently the ECF seriously backs only adult players in the men’s Olympiad and European teams where England in the past decade have often finished as an underachieving also-ran.


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